image Photo: Flash90

Israel marks Holocaust Remembrance Day

Annual observance of Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes Remembrance Day is taking place in Israel. Commemoration of the six million Jews murdered during WWII is marked from sunset-to-sunset, in accordance with all Jewish calendar events.

The central state ceremony was broadcast live from the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem at 8 PM last night, in the presence of the President of the State of Israel and the Prime Minister, dignitaries and Holocaust survivors.

The central theme of this year’s ceremony was “Until the Very Last Jew: Eighty Years Since the Onset of Mass Annihilation.”

After sadly recounting the deaths of 900 Holocaust survivors of the coronavirus in Israel this past year, President Reuven Rivlin said he will forever bear in his heart that the testimony of those who endured the horrors of Nazi Germany during WWII.

Rivlin, whose 7-year-term in office is due to end in June, said “In recent years, I have stood next to other heads of state at death camps, valleys of death, memorial sites and museums across Europe. I did not stand alone. With me were six million of our brothers and sisters. You survivors also stood with me.”

He then hailed those who helped found the State of Israel in 1948. “I have no words to describe the strength I drew from you. You Holocaust survivors, heroes of our rebirth, who found the fortitude do get up from the ground soaked in blood and tears, to look forward, to choose life, to love, to laugh, to enjoy, to believe, to build and to create. To build a national home and a home of your own. From you, I learned that we were not doomed to grow and develop by negating, in fear and under threat,” said President Rivlin, vowing, “On your behalf, I made sure to tell my interlocutors that we the Jewish people will always, always, defend ourselves by ourselves and will never put our fate in the hands of others. On your behalf, I swore to remember and remind that the Jewish people was not born at Auschwitz and that our spiritual, religious and political character was not formed there.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used his address to warn against current international efforts to revive the nuclear deal with Iran, which has repeatedly threatened to annihilate the Jewish State.

“Let there be no mistake, an agreement with Iran will not bind us in any way,” Netanyahu said. “The nuclear agreement with Iran that allowed it to advance its development of atomic bombs, is on the table again. But history has taught us that deals like this, with extremist regimes like this, are worth nothing.”

Six survivors then lighted torches in memory of the six million Jews who perished during the Holocaust. They are Shmuel Naar, Zehava Gealel, Yossi Chen, Halina Friedman, Sara Fishman and Manya Bigunov. Short videos about each of the torchlighters was shown, that are available on the Yad Vashem website in the section dedicated to Holocaust Remembrance Day 2021.

The IDF Paratroopers’ Honor Guard participated in the 75-minute ceremony, which also included the recitation of a chapter from Psalms by Israel’s Chief Rabbi David Lau. The Rishon LeZion Chief Rabbi Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef recited the Kaddish mourner’s prayer, and Cantor Avraham Kirshenbaum recited the El Maleh Rahamim Jewish prayer for the souls of the martyrs.

The State Opening Ceremony was broadcast with simultaneous translation in English, French, Spanish, German, Hebrew, Russian – and Arabic, for the first time.

Today’s events began with the sounding of a one minute siren at 10:00 AM, when the nation stood in silent memory of the six million Jews murdered during the attempted Nazi genocide of the Jewish People. Just minutes later, a wreath-laying ceremony was held at the Warsaw Ghetto Square at Yad Vashem with the participation of the President of the State of Israel, Prime Minister, Speaker of the Knesset, President of the Supreme Court, representatives of survivor and fighter organizations and delegations from throughout the country.

A nearly 4-hour “Unto Every Person There is a Name” Recitation of Holocaust victims’ names ceremony was held by members of the public at the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem, while a similar event took place at the Knesset.

Minister of Education Yoav Galant presided over an afternoon ceremony for youth movements, where Holocaust survivors spoke and lighted a memorial torch.

Throughout Holocaust Remembrance Day, special online lectures and virtual behind-the-scenes tours of Yad Vashem were made available to the public free of charge. Yad Vashem has created special mini-sites dedicated to Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day containing information about the events and ceremonies taking place throughout the day. Also included in the mini-sites are relevant educational materials and a new online exhibition entitled, “The Onset of Mass Murder: The Fate of Jewish Families in 1941.” Using photographs, documentation and testimonies from Yad Vashem’s unrivalled collections, the exhibition tells the stories of the Jewish families in the wake of Operation Barbarossa, and their ultimate fate in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Eastern Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania and Yugoslavia.

In addition, the B’nai B’rith World Center and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael held its 20th consecutive commemorative ceremony, this year celebrating heroism of Jews who rescued fellow Jews.

The event was held at the the B’nai B’rith Martyr’s Forest, where victims of the Holocaust are memorialized with six million trees planted in the Jerusalem mountains, at the “Scroll of Fire” Plaza where a sculpture invokes the destruction of the Jewish people in the Holocaust and their redemption in the State of Israel.

The program included personal testimonies by Holocaust survivors and rescuers. Those honored are as follows:

José Aboulker: Head of the Jewish resistance in Algiers. Paved the road for the Allied capture of the city, avoiding the planned deportation of Jews.

Itschak Artzi: Head of the Zionist-Pioneers resistance in Romania. Led a mission to Transnistria organized by the Jewish community to bring hundreds of Jewish children to Bucharest, saving their lives.

William Bachner: who was employed under false Aryan identity as an engineer in a German company working in Poland and Ukraine. He used his position to employ relatives and other Jews whose lives were in danger and by doing so saved their lives.

Jacob Gutfrajnd: Head of the Jewish partisans group in Brussels. The group saved Jews by targeting informers and burning the lists of Brussels Jews in order to prevent them from being tracked down and deported to the extermination camps.

Sara Felzenstein Gutfrajnd: One of the first women drafted into the Jewish partisans group in Brussels. Gutfrajnd was also a member of the Committee for the Defense of Jews in Belgium (CDJ), in which  she found shelter for Jewish children and families in convents and with Christian families, falsified documents, raised money and provided food stamps to families that hid Jewish children.

Hannah Szenes: One of seven paratroopers from Eretz Israel killed in World War II. Szenes volunteered to infiltrate her country of birth, Hungary, on a mission devised by the Jewish Agency and the British Army to gather intelligence for the British, to organize rebellion activities and to rescue Jews.

Ruth Uzrad: A member of the Zionist Youth Movement in France, Uzrad conveyed Jewish children to hiding places and helped to forge documents.

Rodolphe Furth: A member of the Jewish Resistance in France. He forged documents and found hiding places for Jews and was also in charge of transferring money from Switzerland to fund resistance activities.

Wilhelm Filderman: Member of the Romanian Parliament, representative of the Joint in Romania and head of the Jewish community during the Holocaust. Filderman used his personal connections with General Antonescu to appeal for the repeal of anti-Jewish edicts and oversaw rescue missions to Transnistria, to which he was himself exiled in retaliation for the frequent petitions to Antonescu.

Line Kaufmann: Member of the OSE-Garel network hiding children. She also attended to the needs of those in hiding.

Vitka Kempner Kovner:Member of the “United Partisans Organization,” a clandestine organization in the Ghetto in Vilna. She served as a liaison between the ghetto and the Aryan side of the city. After one of the sabotage operations she decided to defy orders and lead a group of 60 Jewish non-combatants into the forest, thus saving their lives.

Nachum Remba: During the Grossaktion Warsaw (July – September 1942) he placed himself in an ambulance at the entrance to Umschlagplatz deportation plaza where all the Jews were assembled for deportation . By bribing the guards, he was allowed to remove some Jews from the masses converging on the plaza, saving hundreds of children and adults.

Moshe Haim Bezalel Shapiro: As director of the Jewish Agency Aliya department, Shapiro met with Adolf Eichmann in August 1939 in the Gestapo offices in Vienna and rescued thousands of the city’s Jews by providing them with certificates to travel to Israel and paying ransom for them.

The B’nai B’rith World Center and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael believe that the phenomena of Jewish rescue and the instructive stories of thousands of Jews who labored to save their endangered brethren throughout Europe have yet to receive appropriate public recognition and resonance.

“Many who could have tried to flee preferred to stay and rescue others; some paid for it with their lives. With great heroism, Jews in every country in occupied Europe employed subterfuge, forgery, smuggling, concealment and other methods to ensure that Jews survived the Holocaust, or assisted them in escaping to safe havens, and in doing so foiled the Nazi goal of total genocide against the Jews,” read an official statement, underscoring that “The organizers of the ceremony view it as especially important to expose Jewish youth to these narratives as a model for Jewish solidarity and courage.

​In related developments, a new long term study by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has found significantly higher rates of mortality due to heart disease and cancer among Holocaust survivors.

Analysis of the death records of 22,000 Israel-based Holocaust survivors between1964 and 2016 found that women suffered a 15% higher rate of overall mortality and a 17% higher chance of dying from cancer than people who did not live under Nazi occupation. Men’s mortality rates from cancer was 14% higher among the survivor population and 39% higher from heart disease.

Team leaders Dr. Iaroslav Youssim said, “Our research showed that people who experienced life under Nazi rule early in life, even if they were able to successfully migrate to Israel and build families, continued to face higher mortality rates throughout their lives,” while Dr. Hagit Hocher pointed out that “These findings reflect the importance of long-term monitoring of people who have experienced severe traumas and elucidates mortality patterns that might emerge from those experiences.”